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Will Netanyahu go rogue on Israel’s Iran response?

We must hope that the IDF makes its thoughts clear to Bibi. Credit: Getty

April 14, 2024 - 5:00pm

A small but disconcerting piece of history was made last night. In the early hours of Sunday, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched a mass strike on Israel. According to the Israelis, this consisted of 170 explosive drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistics — significant indeed. Israel and its allies together shot most of these down, often before they reached Israeli airspace. The damage was limited. Casualties are minimal.

Regardless, this was the first direct Iranian strike on sovereign Israeli territory. A geopolitical norm has been broken. A precedent has been set.

The question is, at what cost for Tehran? This was always about the Iranians sending a message rather than trying to do as much damage as possible. They had vowed to respond to Israel’s recent assassination of one of their commanders after Jerusalem tired of their endless arming of Hamas, and the endless attacks from Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen. Tehran needed a response to save face.

And so they took it — carefully. They telegraphed it beforehand; they gave everyone, from Jerusalem to Washington, the chance to get ready; they wanted it to be, above all, contained.

And then, just hours after it had begun, the Permanent Iranian Mission to the UN tweeted a statement that was just as calculated as the strikes. “Conducted on the strength of Article 51 of the UN Charter pertaining to legitimate defense, Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus,” it read. Then came the nub: “the matter can be deemed concluded.”

It did of course meander on a bit with some characteristically overwrought — and indeed block capital — threats, thundering that “should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!” But the intent was clear: job done; we are standing down.

The strike showed Iran’s ability to launch a mass attack against Israel, but the attack failed. Yes, the Iranians gave warning. Yes, it was never intended to cause damage. And who knows how Israel’s air defences will fare against a simultaneous strike from Iran and all its proxies.

But right now, Israel is enjoying a degree of sympathy from the world that it hasn’t experienced since the immediate aftermath of the 7 October Hamas atrocities. Gaza is, for once, no longer the leading story from the Middle East. The ball is now back in Israel’s court.

Sources tell me that the United States and Britain are both urging Israel not to respond. The language coming out of Jerusalem indicates that no immediate retaliatory strikes are planned. The plan for Israel now should be simple. Kick the ball into the open goal. Lessen some of the pressure on you, and hoover up the rare political goodwill you are enjoying.

As ever, though, with a prime minister desperate to stay out of jail, and in hoc to religious fanatics to keep his coalition alive, there is always a chance that Netanyahu will instead pick up that ball and boot it into the crowds.

We must hope it doesn’t happen. We must hope that the IDF — which is always a sobering voice, on politics if not always on the ground — makes its thoughts clear. Now is not the time for escalation. Analysis, not emotion, must prevail.


David Patrikarakos is UnHerd‘s foreign correspondent. His latest book is War in 140 characters: how social media is reshaping conflict in the 21st century. (Hachette)

dpatrikarakos

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

I don’t know. The world is a weird place. We expect Israel to keep calm and carry on in the face of terrorist and missile attacks, yet we punish people who ‘misgender’ men in dresses. It seems like we desire peace at any cost even to the point of appeasing violent religious fanatics and sexual perverts.

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The faux reasonableness of the left will at best destroy our way of life and at worst get us all killed!

Matt Jarrett
Matt Jarrett
1 month ago
Reply to  Neiltoo .

I think that’s the biggest non-sequitur I’ve read today.
L/R have got b*gger all to do with it.

Stay your hand Netanyahu & revel in the public sympathy (or a reduction in public venom at least)that the mullahs have handed you. If their mission is accomplished, plan for their duplicity but for pity’s sake beware bunker mentality.
Have a few more press conferences on the Gaza situation & get a good lawyer.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Can we aim at being more civilized than before? By recognizing for example that what we glibly and prosaically call a “sexual pervert” is simply one for whom the (manifold) *signs* and significance of the sexual have become of far greater importance than, for want of a better expression, the ‘thing itself’?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Lightband

It depends on what you mean by being civilized. Having sympathy for an uncontrollable sexual urge is one thing. Forcing others to participate in it is another.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Good point. How much longer with western societies indulge these stupid 21st century obsessions while the rest of the world falls apart?

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 month ago

Retaliation is not self-defence, even if few would doubt that Britain would do it to anywhere, at least other than Israel, that had bombed its diplomatic territory in a third country, causing the deaths of British citizens. It would be wrong. But it would probably happen. There would be no doubt what the Americans would do under comparable circumstances. Iran’s overtly retaliatory action has killed no one, unlike its provocation, and that cannot be entirely due to the success of its opponents. Anything more from Israel would be for Benjamin Netanyahu’s internal political purposes only, and worthy of contempt.

Israel should be treated as if it were any other country. But unlike any other country, Israel could use a British-made weapon to bomb the House of Commons while it was in session and only George Galloway would object, although not on the floor of the House, where he would never be called. Nor would he be allowed on any radio or television station, or quoted in any newspaper apart from the Morning Star. Everyone else would parrot whatever codswallop the Israelis had dictated. This we know, because that has already happened in relation to the murders of James Henderson, John Chapman and James Kirby.

Less than two weeks after that, the RAF has been shooting down drones on behalf of the murderers of those British citizens, who were military veterans. Yet it had apparently been unable to shoot down the drone that had killed them in three attacks of surgical precision to rank with the elimination of Ismail Haniyeh’s three sons and four grandchildren. Or with the bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus, which is now almost comically said by the BBC to be “widely thought to have been carried out” by the IDF, as if anyone else might have done it. The line is also being peddled that that might not have been a diplomatic mission at all, as if the Israelis, or whoever it had been, had just got lucky in hitting exactly the eight Revolutionary Guard Corps officers for whom they had been aiming. Who would have known that they might have been there? The IDF’s dumb luck on occasions such as the Damascus consulate-or-whatever, the Haniyehs, and the British and other aid workers, ranks only with its toddler-like imprecision the rest of the time, so many women and children are we expected to believe that it killed accidentally or collaterally.

Ostensible conservatives or socialists turn into Hillary Clinton when asked in what way Israel was a British ally, holding forth about freedom ‘n’ democracy as if those constituted a military alliance or a strategic interest. Like Clinton, they are in any case utter hypocrites. They would presumably accept the ratings of Freedom House. In the air last night, effectively against Partly Free Lebanon, were the key British ally of Not Free Jordan, with Not Free Iraq, and with very, very, very Not Free Saudi Arabia. Whatever, by their own lights, they were defending, then it was not freedom or democracy. How did the Iraq War for those work out? Well, that assumes that it was ever really for those in the first place. Unfree and undemocratic Iraq’s planes would not have gone into battle for Israel before then. But they did last night. As did those of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia.

Campbell P
Campbell P
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Very refreshing to read someone here who has grasped the realities and not been blinded by the propaganda. The individuals in government in the countries mentioned know which side their bread is buttered on and reap the benefits. As always, follow the money. Blair was promised a place at the high table by Bush. The price? His conscience and hundreds of thousands displaced, dead, and an immigration nightmare for Europe.

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

As ever, though, with a prime minister desperate to stay out of jail, and in hoc to religious fanatics to keep his coalition alive, there is always a chance that Netanyahu will instead pick up that ball and boot it into the crowds.
.
God save us from stupid experts

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

And stupid comments

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Dear Billy


UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

And stupid bigots

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
1 month ago

Israel’s problem, now as always, is that it has two audiences: the West and the Muslim world. In the West, restraint is seen as a sign of strength; in the Muslim world, as a sign of weakness. Israel can’t keep the sympathy of the West while preserving its deterrence against its enemies. The question is then: what audience is more important at this point in time?

alan jones
alan jones
1 month ago

Bomb Iran and all Muslim states back into prehistory. Problem solved

B Emery
B Emery
1 month ago
Reply to  alan jones

Might find your problem is that we might not have enough bombs or enough money for that. That’s a rather large area. We are struggling already. Escalation should be avoided if possible.
What about the shipping lanes.
If you bomb the middle east back to prehistory trade would be f*cked.

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
1 month ago

Ha Ha Ha. Netanyahu is fighting ridiculous charges like Trump. The charges are nothing and the biased prosecutor’s case is falling apart just like Trump’s. But Leftist fanatics won’t stop.
Jewish religious fanatics are different from other religious fanatics. Jewish religious fanatics just want to be left alone except when fired upon. Then if Israel has learned anything, retaliation must be severe. How Leftists believe if one is merciful to an Islamic foe the Islamic foe will be merciful back is one of the biggest mysteries of our day just like Queers for Palestine. What are they thinking?
And that is why Israel must make Iran pay for its dry run testing propulsion systems and missile capabilities on Israel. Somebody hasn’t learned from Gaza and everyone in the middle east must. This shouldn’t be thought of as a gift of saving face. Many would have celebrated with joy passing out sweets if Jews would have been killed.
Why were all those Iranian military officials in Damascus? Assad didn’t need help killing his own. Hamas was a dry run and then deserted. They were deceived into thinking somebody liked them and wouldn’t leave them in the lurch. Now Israel must show there are no exceptions. There must be a price.

Will Liley
Will Liley
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron Kean

Ron, you do your arguments no service by saying the charges against Trump are ridiculous. So, taking TOP SECRET documents and showing them around his golf club, then refusing to return them when asked to by the National Archives, then lying about it? That one? Or trying to intimidate the Georgian Secretary of State to “find me 11,134 votes”, thereby denying the votes of millions of Georgians? Or was it his sending armed mobs to the Capitol to lynch his VP if he would not overturn the votes of multi-millions of citizens? That one? What would it take for you to EVER convict your cult leader of a crime?

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
1 month ago
Reply to  Will Liley

Yoj seem to forget that Trump, as president, had the right to declassify anything he wanted. Further, unlike Biden, he didn’t share the content of those documents with anybody. Waiving a piece of paper in front of somebody is not the same thing as showing it to them and allowing them to read and study them, as was the case with Biden and his biographer. But Biden cannot be charged because he’s lost his memory! What an excuse. Further, Biden did not have the right to declassify anything as either a senator or VP.

Unwoke S
Unwoke S
1 month ago
Reply to  Will Liley

Good grief, Will. You really need to get out more and get your news from other than MSNBC and CNN.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
1 month ago
Reply to  Will Liley

Lynch the VP? The Shaman with the horns on his head????
None of the intruders had lethal weapons and some of them were peacefully shown around the offices by security men. Also no policemen were killed, even if the left wing media still repeats those allegations endlessly.

Campbell P
Campbell P
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron Kean

Could not believe this last comment: duped or disingenuous?

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

The prize here, not just for Israel but for Israel’s neighbours and (potential) friends, is the success of the historic normalisation efforts sometimes referred to as the Abraham Accords. Israel can hurt Iran far more by that outcome than it would by responding by attacking Iran. An attack upon Iran would ironically give Iran exactly what it wants: the permanent destruction of any chance of Israel, the USA and Saudi Arabia forming a defence and trade pact.

Ryan K
Ryan K
1 month ago

international support / sympathy for Israel is short lived and as long as Israel /Jews are victims. When they fight back it’s genocide. Maybe it’ll be genocide in Iran now. Will Iran be hopping mad. You bet. They all ready are. Larger war? I don’t think Iran really wants it. Israel’s “extreme right wing” gov’t …most extreme in Israeli history is the refrain…what “wing” is hamas…or Iran ? What level of extreme is extreme in the so called “Arab world” Turkey or Iran? Or is it just business as usual. And the opprobrium and labeling is reserved for the Jewish State.